Monday, May 7, 2001
Updated: May 15, 3:22 PM ET
Stewart hopes personal trainer holds key
By Jack Arute
In 1999, Tony Stewart wheeled his co-owned Home Depot-sponsored Dallara to a ninth-place finish in the Indianapolis 500 before jumping a plane and touching down on the Lowes Motor Speedway infield grass just 10 minutes prior to the start of NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600.
Close to midnight, Stewart brought his Home Depot Pontiac home to a fourth-place finish and needed medical attention for dehydration and exhaustion. The physical toll extracted by Stewart's Indy-Charlotte "double" may have denied the '97 Indy Racing League champ his first career NASCAR Winston Cup win. It also led Stewart to say, "I'll never do that again."
But the Richmond winner will do it again May 27. Stewart on Monday was officially named one of Chip Ganassi's drivers for the 85th running of the Indy 500.
"We learned a lot from our first experience doing this," said Stewart. "Basically we're trying to do everything we can to improve on what we learned in '99 to try to do this."
As first reported on RPM.ESPN.com, part of Stewart's arsenal this time around is a personal trainer.
"He's with us to make sure that I'm eating properly, stay off the pizzas and sodas all month. Which, if they can keep me off the sodas, that will be a major accomplishment."
A veteran of the NFL's Carolina Panthers, Stewart's trainer is never far from the Rushville, Ind., native. When Stewart rides out to the line to participate in practice, so does the trainer. When Stewart exits the car and heads to the drink cooler, it's the trainer who substitutes fruit juice for the driver's preferred soda pop.
Nutrition replaces junk food. What comes easy to Tony Stewart when he's strapped in the cockpit of his Home Depot-Target Stores Indy ride is offset by the regimen dictated by his trainer. A healthy body will not fail the way Stewart's did two years ago.
"I'm sure that by the end of the month, I'll be really hating the guy, but right now, I'm ready to commit to this program," joked Stewart.
Why would anyone consider a 1,100-mile marathon?
"I remember when I was in grade school and high school," recalls Stewart. "Every day when the school bell would ring at 20 after three, the first thing I did was rush home, turn the TV on, and watch the Indy 500 coverage. I got in a lot of trouble with my parents because homework didn't get done, because I wouldn't pull myself off the TV until 6.
"I can't express in words how much this race means to me. It's just when you grow up in Indiana and you're a race car driver, this is all there is and this is all you think about."
It's a hole that remains in Tony Stewart's impressive racing career. Championships and 10 career Winston Cup wins have done little to diminish the desire that Stewart has for the Indianapolis 500.
When asked if he would trade a win in the Coca-Cola 600 for one at Indy, Stewart answered: "I'd trade six World 600's for a win here."
He may just get his best chance to do so.
"Until Chip called I didn't feel like there were any opportunities that were worth pursuing; and when Chip called, I said this is the right opportunity to come do this the right way and do it the way that I feel like we need to do it to have an opportunity to win."
Who knows? In the process, Tony Stewart may just kick his addiction to pizza and soda pop.